Nearly two years after launching Tocabe Indigenous Marketplace and about fifteen years since debuting the first location of Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery in Denver, co-founder Ben Jacobs and his business partner Matt Chandra have found a way to bring their food to people who not only need it, but also have a cultural connection to the ingredients.
"We wanted to make sure we are putting the traditional foods in the hands of people that not only desire them, but need them to come in a convenient way," says Jacobs. "We have to be very specific in our approach, because there's not a lot of companies and organizations doing what we are doing, and I want to make a positive impact, and make sure it's sustainable."
Enter the Direct-to-Tribe Ready Meal Program, which has already distributed 2,200 prepared meals to Spirit Lakes Nation in North Dakota. But unlike other meal programs, Tocabe makes dishes featuring nutrient-dense food from Native American producers. In March, the program will send more meals, and so far, it has enough grant money to continue the service for two more years.
"The whole goal of what we are doing is to support the native food system," explains Jacobs, who is a member of the Osage Nation. "It's not just feeding people and building the supply chain, but making money and supporting the communities, too."
This is part of Tocabe's Seed to Soul brand mission, which begins in its fast-casual locations in Denver's Berkeley neighborhood and Greenwood Village. A lot of the food served in the eateries mirrors what the team makes for Spirit Lakes Nation, at least in terms of ingredients.
Jacobs says that so far, the new program has delivered Rock River Ranches bison in a chili with roasted root vegetables, as well as Houma jambalaya with organic wild rice from Red Lake Nation Foods and bison sausage, which pays homage to the Southeastern tribe. For the next delivery, a green chile stew is in the works, as well as a risotto with pumpkin and Ramona Farms wheat berries.
Eventually, adds Jacobs, Tocabe hopes to curate the meals better by finding out if consumers want more or less spices, protein or vegetables. Right now, each meal is the same regardless of preference, and comes fully cooked in a single portion that is ready to heat up.
The reason Tocabe partnered with Spirit Lakes Nation is because of a personal connection to Mary Greene-Trottier, the director of the tribe's food distribution program. She handles the grant side and has helped organize the program to make it work best for everyone involved. The meals benefit members of the tribe's food distribution program, which targets families and adults in need in the community.
Jacobs is also working on a partnership with Oklahoma State University and his own Osage community there. The current idea is to help people build their indigenous pantry with goods and recipes from Tocabe and produce from the native-run Harvest Land farm.
That program. too. is growing, and if all goes well, the company's distribution of wholesome, Native American-grown foods will continue to spread, both to the tribes and those who want to experience true American fare.
Tocabe, An American Indian Eatery, is located at 3526 West 44th Avenue and 8181 East Arapahoe Road in Greenwood Village. For more information, including hours, visit tocabe.com.